My earliest memory of negative self-talk, this time specifically regarding my appearance, was in fifth grade. I got a HORRIFIC haircut. I did not want to go to school. I wanted to wear a paper bag on my head, but unfortunately, my mom did not think that was a good idea. I tried though!! There is photographic evidence of that attempt. I thought I looked like Carol Brady. My mom’s hairdresser – who shall remain nameless – called the next day, and I picked up the phone. Our conversation went like this:
“Hi Corrie, can I talk to your mom?”
“Sure, hang on a second,” I said as I put the phone down on the counter top, “MOM THE BUTCHER IS ON THE PHONE!!!!”.
Easily one of my mom’s proudest moments.
I just thought I looked so ugly; I didn’t want anyone to see me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given how young I was, that the third and fourth grade girls on my Girls on the Run team have similar examples. I know sometimes that when I talk about Girls on the Run, I can sound a bit like an infomercial. I can’t help it! I don’t even mean to sound that way, but Girls on the Run has totally changed my life including, how I see myself.
This is my sixth or seventh season as head coach for Girls on the Run here in Nashville. One of my favorite lessons from the GOTR curriculum addresses positive self-talk. The lesson teaches the girls how to recognize negative self-talk, why it can be so bad for you, and how to turn your negative statements into positive ones. We also decide on an action or noise to do if we hear someone say something negative about herself. Originally, we present the noise/action as something to use when hearing others say something negative, but what it really does is help the girls recognize when they are saying something negative about themselves.
Last year when my team came upon this lesson, I gave an example of how I had recently used negative self-talk. I was preparing for a meeting and feeling very stressed out and inadequate, I thought someone else would do a better job! I feel bad for the berating I gave myself, and didn't even realize what a spiral I had thrown myself into, needless to say, the meeting went great and we were super productive! We then went around the circle and instead of sharing examples that they had heard others say like the curriculum suggests, the girls gave their own personal examples.
- I was afraid I wouldn’t make any friends at GOTR and I didn’t think anyone would like me.
- I was thinking my outfit was ugly and that people would make fun of me.
- There is a read-a-thon going on and I don’t think I’ll be able to read enough books because I am not as good of a reader as other people in my class.
- I got a haircut and I really didn’t want to come to school today because it looks so bad, but my mom practically forced me into the car this morning.
- I’m pretty short for my age, so I get teased, and I really don’t like that I’m shorter.
- It’s getting really cold outside, so I had to wear my coat today, and it makes me look fat and puffy.
First of all, this lesson was a great neutralizer for the team. The girls had shared their insecurities with each other and I think it helped them see each other as ‘equals’. (A couple of times one of the girls would say something negative about themselves, another would gasp and say, why would you ever think that, it was pretty cute!) I think this is a unique chance for them to learn a little bit about compassion and empathy. Second of all, I couldn’t believe they were having these thoughts at such a young age. Especially the comments about appearances, including clothes and hair. It is so fun to go back around the circle and watch the girls turn their negatives into positives. I loved telling the girl who was worried about her haircut that I had no idea she got a haircut, and that guess what, YOUR HAIR DOES NOT DEFINE YOU! We love you because of YOU and everything that uniquely makes you YOU, not your hair! When I asked the girls what they thought about hearing their teammates say negative things, one of the girls said she didn't think those things about any of her teammates!
In this seasons curriculum, each girl gets four note cards. On two note cards they write an example of negative self-talk.
On the other two, they write examples of how to turn a negative statement into a positive statement. I love these so much! Especially the, 'I am proud of who I am, I'm so helpful, I think that I am a great big sister!, I'm going to try my best!'.
As part of their warm up, the girls run under a tunnel of fellow GOTRs to put their negative self talk example into the ‘No Nonsense Nelly’ box, and then they perform whatever noise or action the group brainstorms, in our case ZIP! I love the practice that follows this lesson because the girls tell me stories about how they used our action to catch negative self-talk. Whats interesting is that they always give me examples about how they used the action on themselves.
The other part of the lesson is discussing why negative self-talk is so detrimental. One of the girls said, 'If you have a friend who is saying negative things, you’re basically letting them hurt themselves.' 'Most of the time the bad things you say to yourself aren't true, its just because you're in kind of a yucky mood.' Another said, 'Negative self-talk is hard to stop once you start going, it just kind of takes over your brain and makes it hard to focus on anything else, which can make you feel really bad.' These girls are so smart.
Some of my negative self-talk statements are quite certainly exact replicas of things I have heard my mom say, and actually things I have heard her mom, my grandma, say. The ones focusing on external things like weight, my hair, my skin, my clothes, etc., are easier for me to see and catch. The absolute hardest ones are about my relationships with people, like assuming someone doesn’t care, doesn’t like me, etc. this is probably my biggest struggle at the moment. I wish I had learned more about the downward spiral of negative self-talk when I was younger. I was an adult before I realized that this kind of talk is destructive and that I had the power to STOP it.
My husband and I do not have human children, just two furry kids of our own. At this point, I have the opposite of baby fever. I love other people’s babies very much, but I think the adverse reaction to the thought of having my own baby gives me is a sign that we/I am not quite ready. Aside from being selfish and loving the flexibility of our childless life, part of my adverse reaction, and by part I mean probably 75%, is fear. Fear that I won’t be a good mom (<-- negative self-talk). I am trying to improve myself so that when we are ready, I can be the best mom possible, and if not in a mom role, maybe as a coach or mentor! The point is, I know that negative self-talk is something that I struggle with, and that it can affect not only me, but little impressionable still forming minds too!
Part of my motivation for starting this website was to use it as an accountability tool, and with that, use it to catalog what I learned and why I think it is important. Whether I use it for self-improvement, a catalog of curiosity cures, or if we are ever blessed with children, I can come back and look through these things and continue to work on improving.
A couple of take-aways:
- Be aware of negative self-talk because it can take over your brain!!
- It takes practice to get better! The very first step is awareness, recognizing and catching yourself when you start saying something negative. The second step is turning your statement around into something positive.
- It is important to be aware of what you say in front of young impressionable children. Avoid making negative comments about yourself, even if they seem harmless.
- Negative self-talk is contagious! BUT SO IS POSITIVE SELF-TALK!!
Do you have any tips for me? I'd love to hear them!!
(This picture is of my GOTRS, Intelligent Isabelle, Vibrant Virgnia, and Jammin' Jordan at our Spring 5K! They also finished first, second, and third overall! So SO SO proud!)